Friday, October 16, 2009

Of Masks and Mask Dances

Think of Andong and which festival instantly comes to mind? The most famous festival in Andong is without doubt the Andong International Mask Dance Festival which is held every year starting the last Friday of September and lasting for 10 days, held either at the Hahoe Village or at the Andong Gangbyeon Festival Grounds. This festival showcases the domestic as well as the traditional dances from countries around the world.

Before one can really appreciate the meaning and beauty of the Korean Mask Dance one has to have a little knowledge about the masks that are being used, as well as the story behind the mask dance dramas. So let’s take a look at some of the masks first which I “borrowed” from the Hahoe Mask Museum’s website.

The Hahoe Byeongsan Masks are the oldest type of masks in Korea and are used in the Hahoe Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori.

Imae Imae: A Fool

As the legend goes, Imae T'al is the mask without a chin. He plays the role of a foolish person and the servant of the Sonbi. His figure is roughly distorted, but discloses his naivety. His crooked nose reveals that one of his four hands and legs is deformed. The downslanted eyes signify that he is free from malice.
Dancing form: Imae's faltering steps.

Ch'oraengi: The Hasty Scatterbrained Meddler

The characteristics of Ch'oraengi are generally flippant expressions of a slave of the Yangban. His twisted and firmly closed mouth shows his discontented expression. The protruded forehead means the stubborn figure who disagrees with his master. His short nose represents his hasty actions.
Dancing form: Ch'oraengi's frivolous steps.

Kaksi : The Bride

Kakshi enters as a substitute of the local goddess. She is generally quiet and calm, but her lips are firmly closed. This expression connotes that she is trying to keep her new marriage, and her tough life in her heart. She wears long tresses of hair in front and back. These show she only moves her head of hanging tresses when she is walking Dancing form: Kakshi's soft steps.


Chuji : The Lion

This mask is similar to wings or fins. Chuji means lion in a Korean dialect. In another version of the mask dance, Chuji is called a pheasant-fight.

Dancing form: Chuji's fluttering steps.

Paekchong The Butcher

Paekchong : The Butcher

The generally ill-tempered nature of Paekchong T'al shows a malicious figure with murderous intent when his head droops. When he leans backwards he has an insane grin because of his sense of guilt derived from killing bulls. His crooked forehead signifies he is of a sinister and cruel nature. Dancing form: Paekchong's perverse steps


Halmi : The Old Widow

Enters Halmi, the extremely poor old widow due to her hardship in life. The expressions around her eyes disclose the elderly strength derived from a person who has tasted the sweetness and bitterness of life. Her mouth shows the hungry expression, and her upward peaked head means that her later life is unfortunate. Dancing form: Halmi's hip dance.


Chung : The Depraved Buddhist Monk

He is not a monk who trains himself at a Buddhist temple, but a wandering and depraved monk whose grin is roughly insidious. The crescent-shaped eyes accord with his characteristics revealed in his lecherous behavior. Dancing form: Chung's deceitful steps.


Yangban : The Aristocrat

Yangban T'al is viewed as the masterpiece best representing the aesthetic value among Hahoe masks. Its expression is generally gentle, mixed with bombastic and leisurely expressions, just as goes the saying; "Yangban picks his teeth, even when he drinks water". The separate chin with a hanging string makes firm the mouth when drooping the head, and thus changes himself into an angry face. Dancing form: Yangban's swaggering steps.


Sonbi : The Scholar

Sonbi's expression reveals his ever disgruntled state not by adapting himself to common social structure. Additionally, he shows his dignity as a scholar and his unscholarly arrogance. The wide bridge around the tip of his nose and the developed cheekbone fit the scholarly figure. Dancing form: Sonbi's long strides.


Pune : The Flirtatious Young Woman

Pune's oval face, crescent-shaped eyebrows, high nose, and small mouth are considered as the conditions of a beauty in our conventional society. She enters as a concubine and singing and dancing girl of Yangban and Sonbi. The lewdness around the outer corners of her eyes and mouth signifies that she is a wanton woman. The crescent-shaped eyebrows mean that she is endowed with the artistic quality. Dancing form: Pune's elegant steps.

There were originally fourteen of these much treasured Masks but three of them, the (Chongak [Bridegroom], Byulchae and Ttuckdari-t'al) were lost. The remaining eleven the (Imae, Ch'oraengi, Kakshi, Chuji, Paekchong, Halmi, Chung, Yangban, Sonbi and Pune,) have been designated as National Treasure #121.

Hahoe masks are superior to other masks in their realistically formative beauty and their functions. They respectively bring to life all the human emotions of joy, anger, sadness and pleasure, according to their different roles in the mask dance dramas. They are constructed naturally. The mouths will open and close. The movements of the chins during conversation expose the feelings of the characters very well. It is historically appreciated that Kakshi, Pune, and Halmi Masks do not have nostrils. Their mouths are small and reveal the social status and nature of the day. The nobleman, scholar, monk, and the butcher masks have separate chins and function just like a human jaw structure that enables the realistic sense of real mouth figure when having a conversation, which is a unique characteristic that can't be observed in other masks. For instance, if the clown behind the mask leans backward to laugh, the mask presents a smiling face with a wide-open mouth, and if he bends down his head when angry, the mask has a shut mouth, angry expression with the chin and the upper lips compressed together. As supporting this, a saying "A mask is sacred: if the clown in the mask smiles, the mask smiles too, and if the clown gets angry, the mask shares the anger, too." is passed on. Thus, they are recognized as prominent masterpieces throughout the world, especially the Masks of Yangban, Sonbi, Chung, and Paekchong.

Know why the mask of the Fool, has no chin? There’s a legend to it apparently. It seems that a young man named Huh doryong who lived in Hahoe village had a revelation in his dream from the guardian deity of his village. On the following morning he devoted himself to making masks. He performed his ablutions and spread forbidden strings to prohibit strangers from entering his house. A young girl who was ardently in love with him wanted to know what he was doing. So she peeped through a hole she had made into Huh doryong's window-paper. Her actions violated the divine rule of Huh doryong who coughed out blood and died instantly. Thus, he could not finish making the chin of the Imae Mask, his last work. The Imae Mask, without a chin, has been handed down through the generations. The people of the village built an altar near the shrine of a local god. Sacrifices were made every year for the sake of comforting Huh doryong's spirit. No trace, however, of the altar has been found.

These Korean wooden masks or tal, are difficult to carve, but they are beautiful works of art. The wood used to make the Hahoe masks are all alders. Wooden masks, which used to represent the mainstream of masks before they began to be made of paper and gourd, have rapidly disappeared from the scene. Nowadays the only ones that we can find are those belonging to the mask dance performers in the different regions of Korea.

However there is one mask known as the Bangsangssi mask which is not intended to be worn, but which is used to dispel evil spirits and normally placed at the head of funeral processions. The Bangsangssi tal was used for exorcising evil sprits in funeral customs exorcising ceremonies, from as early as the Shilla Dynasty until the Chosun Dynasty. It was placed in front of a funeral bier and buried near the grave or burnt after each use, so a new one was produced for every funeral service. The materials used to produce Bangsangssi were wood, paper, straw and bear skin. Bangsangssi had two to four golden eyes and wore red upper clothes and a black skirt with spear and a shield held in its hands. Bangsangssi made of wood was used for the government or powerful gentry, those made of paper for general noble class and those made of straw for common people.

Thus, the Hahoe Byeongsan Masks are recognized as prominent masterpieces throughout the world, especially the Masks of Yangban, Sonbi, Chung, and Paekchong.

There’s another important factor you should know in connection with the Korean Mask Dance. Shamanism has played an important role in the lives of the Korean people since ancient times. It has been deeply embedded in their hearts and influencing them in their daily lives. Koreans believe that the souls of the departed are present among them, sharing their joys and sorrows, and that their ancestors’ souls protect their descendents from generation to generation. Thus the shamans have been used as mediators in communicating with the gods when asking for protection from misfortune and disaster or for good luck etc. It is through the gut, the Korean shamanic ritual, consisting of song and dance that the Koreans have found much hope and courage throughout their lives. Gut, based on the lengthy historical experience of the Korean people has become a part of the Korean culture.

All the different types of traditional Korean dances come with different names, and t'al-nori is the name of the traditional Korean performance style, in which each performer wears a mask and makeup corresponding to the role played. The t'al-nori has maintained its original folk drama characteristics by its continual performance and appreciation from the common class people. So what’s the best description for a t'al-nori? The t'al-nori sits somewhere between a comedy show and a shamanic ritual, but it is more like a highly satirical dance drama, acted outdoors in a circular amphitheatre. The satires and parodies usually play on the human weakness, the many evils of the contemporary age, and the luxurious noble class. The colors of the mask can often symbolize the age and gender of the performer - a black mask is used for an older person, a red mask is used for a young man, and a white mask is used for a young woman. The nong-ak music is used to accompany the t'al-nori.

There are several different mask dance dramas, each one for a different Korean festival, and there are fourteen different Korean mask dances that are still being performed today. But I can tell you only about the Hahoe Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori which originated in Andong.

Korean Mask Dance Drama can be classified under two categories, the Sonang Ritual Mask Dance (the village shaman) and the Sandae Mask Dance Drama. (the mountainous stage) The Hahoe Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori belongs to the former and practises the comprehensive village ritual of Byeolsin-gut while preserving its dramatic characteristics. Village sacrificial rituals have been performed on the 15th day of the 1st lunar calendar month and on the 8th day of the 4th lunar calendar month (Buddha's birthday) of each year in the Hahoe Maeul. The Seonghwangshin of the Village was called the goddess born in the year of Mujin, and the annual ritual for this Seonghwangshin was known as Dongje (or Dangje i.e. Village Ritual). Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori together with Dongje have been performed by an oracle (god-descending) every three, five, or ten years whenever diseases or epidemics occurred in the village.
Byeolsin-gut is composed of four parts - god-descending, greeting god, pleasing god, and sending off god. Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori belongs to the third part, that is, pleasing god and is believed to be able to drive away disasters and to bring forth blessings for the village people. The essence of Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori is to portray the conflicting relationships between the Yangban (ruling class) and Sangmin (ruled class) by disclosing falsehood of Yangban and the Sonbi (the then ruling classes). It reveals the depraved Buddhism in those days through the enactment of Chung in the mask dance, of a Buddhist Monk's violation of a commandment, and satirically delineates the joys and sorrows of the ruled common people. Likewise, the common class people of Hahoe Maeul had no reluctance to satire the society and also to reveal their suppressed feelings. Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori, which criticized the ruling classes of the society in which status and order were highly observed, was performed under Yangban's tacit consent and financial support in Hahoe Maeul, the Yangban Village. The performance resulted in the harmonious life between the upper and lower classes, the Yangban and the Sangmin.

It was possible for the Sangmin to settle their oppressed feelings and for the Yangban to understand their way of life. Thus, the conflicts and problems between classes in the inner part of the community had passed through the shock-absorbing process of T'al-nori performed as one of village rituals of Byeolsin-gut and once more had the function to reinforce the existing structural systems of the community. The final Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori was performed in 1928, and was restored to the original state by the Research Society of the Hahoe Mask Dance Drama in 1973. The Korean government designated this T'al-nori as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 69 on November 1980.

I think that is why the Hahoe Folk Village is unique from other folk villages in that both the upper class and the lower class lived together in the same village. Only thing is that the houses of the upper class were located in the village center, whereas those of the lower class were built on the outskirts. Another prominent feature is that the houses face in all directions from the center whereas most houses in other villages all face south.

The Hahoe Byeolsin-Gut T'al-nori has been performed for eight hundred years and consists of several scenes with vigorous dancing and music. Other dramatic portions are singing and the recitative text, mixing comic witchcraft and gestures. The content was often aimed at exposing and satirizing corrupt aristocrats. It evoked laughter and sighs through the antics of apostate monks, fallen aristocrats, priestesses, professional entertainers, servants, and other dramatic personality. The expression of masks and the regional variations is a feast for the eyes. This is a one-hour performance.

The following are scenes from the Hahoe Byeolsin-Gut T'al-nori. Enjoy yourselves.

Kangsin Madang

Kangsin Madang Scene

Kangsin (Invocation to a god) represents prayers for a local god to descend at the local shrine. Ringing bells on a god-descending tree symbolize the descent of the god. The other big tree hanging the bells becomes the divine body of the local god, and only when the bells on the tree stop ringing, can the Hahoe Byeolsin-Gut T'al-nori start.

Mudong Madang

Mudong Madang Scene Kakshi (The Young Girl) enters "on the shoulders of a man" (Mudong). Kakshi is the personification of the local goddess. Her frequent asking for rice and money may be traced to a divine origin. Her actions ensure virtues and blessings from the local goddess. Kakshi should never touch the ground. She is always above the common people. Playing the role of the local goddess is demonstrated by always being carried on the shoulders of a man.

Chuji Madang

Chuji Madang Scene Chuji signifies lions, and they sanctify the performing ground by driving away demons and evil spirits.

Paekchong Madang (The Butcher)

Paekchong (The Butcher) clip_image001[3]

Paekchong (The Butcher) has the instinct to strike down a bull and remove its heart and testicles. After that, Paekchong satirizes the authoritative attitudes of the ruling class who suppressed feelings toward sexuality. Paekchong makes fun of the ruling class with his humorous speech. His actions cause the spectators to laugh and be sympathetic as the act releases the ties of sexual taboos.

Halmi (The Granny)

Halmi The Granny

Halmi (The Granny) exposes her miserable life she has led since she became a widow when she was 15 years old by singing Beteulga (a song for a loom).

Chung Madang (The Wandering Monk)

Chung  Madang Scene Pune (The Flirtatious Girl) suddenly crouches and urinates. At that instant, Chung (The Wandering Monk) is stirred by watching her. They dance together and then are detected. This act satirizes man's instinctive conflict and reveals the corrupted state of the monks in those days.

The Yangban and the Scholar

Yangban and Sonbi

Yangban (The Aristocrat) and Sonbi (The Scholar) take pride in their status and knowledge in fighting to get Pune, the flirtatious girl. They cease to quarrel and dance together with Pune. They will fight again over buying the bull's testicles from Paekchong. They are criticized by Halmi and exit at the sound of "give your tax".

The simple Honrye Madang (wedding ceremony)

Honrye Madang Scene The simple Honrye (wedding ceremony) takes place on a straw mat prepared at a field near the entrance of a village after the sun sets. This act discloses the first night in the bridal room. Sleeping on the mat signifies fertility and productivity. It is generally believed the pair will produce a son.

Shinbang Madang Scene (the bridal room)

Shinbang Madang Scene

This act is held at midnight to keep alive the mood of the Shinbang (the bridal room). Chonggak (The Bridegroom) approaches Kakshi (The Bride) and loosens the knot of her upper wedding attire. He then embraces her and they lie down.

I almost forgot, we still haven’t been to the Mask Museum yet, I think I think I can still squeeze it in and then we would have done all the sights in Andong.

Dedicated to Korean masks, the Hahoe Mask Museum was opened in September 1995 near the entrance to Andong Hahoe Village. The museum was established by Kim Dong-pyo, a master craftsman, who is also the director of the museum. It is a two-story building exhibiting various masks from the region.

As I said earlier, the Hahoe Byeongsan Masks are the oldest type of masks in Korea that are used in the Hahoe Byeolsin-gut T'al-nori. The masks that you see at this museum are duplicates made by Kim Dong-pyo himself, as the originals are kept at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul. After three out of the fourteen original masks were lost, the remaining eleven were designated intangible cultural properties so they cannot afford to lose any more of them now that they are so valuable.

The reason for the masks’ survival over the centuries and handed down to this day can be attributed to their limited use. Reserved only for the annual Hahoe Byeolsin Gut drama, they were kept immediately after the drama. It is also believed that ritual taboos surrounding the masks during the rest of the year may have contributed to their preservation. Like human faces, the left and right sides of these masks are slightly asymmetrical and some have movable jaws, enabling a variety of facial expressions.
The Hahoe Mask Museum houses 300 Korean masks of 19 types including the duplicate Hahoe masks, together with 500 foreign masks from 35 countries. There are special displays illustrating the making of various masks and how they are used in performances and rituals.

Visitors can take part in a mask-making program using Korean hanji paper. In addition, the museum has wax dolls of Hahoe Byeolsin Gut drama characters and other accessories. The outdoor area of the museum is the site of various mask dance performances such as the International Mask Dance Festival for which Andong is so famous for. The museum also has an excellent gift shop with masks and a wide range of local handicrafts and souvenirs on sale.

And with the visit to the Mask Museum our tour to Andang has come to a close and with that I bid you farewell. Till next time, goodbye.

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